Is this the year of the "Joystick"? (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
It's that time of year again folks!
NFL fans are reading up on fantasy football projections and preparing for their draft while all of the major sports outlets are making their NCAA football preseason top 25 lists.
In recent years, I have been predicting breakout players before the start of the season. Similar to fantasy football where you have your "surefire, impact players" such as fellow Bruin, Maurice Jones-Drew last year, "players poised to break out" and "sleepers" that you're positive nobody else knows about, but will blow everyone away (Victor Cruz), I have been predicting breakout players according to these categories as a way to boast to friends at the end of the season.
* For brevity's sake, please note that I leave out current veterans we have seen play enough minutes to assume will make an impact, such as Johnathan Franklin, XSF, Jeff Locke and Jordan Zumwalt. I have limited my list to true freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores.
"Surefire, impact" prospects in recent memory include Xavier Su'a-Filo, Brian Price and Rahim Moore while my "players poised to break out" type players have immediately or eventually developed into stars. This list has included in the past, Akeem Ayers, Johnathan Franklin, Kai Forbath and Jeff Locke. Some of my sleepers include Derrick Coleman, Joe Cowan and Alterraun Verner. Admittedly, I've also whiffed on quite a few highly touted players such as Morrell Presley and E.J. Woods, and have been waiting for several players recruited during Coach Rick Neuheisel's regime to break out due to lack of playing time or injuries, such as Dietrich Riley and Jordon James.
So without further ado, here are some of my future UCLA football stars to watch out for this upcoming season.
Surefire, Impact players
Brandon Willis DE - after a few stops in Chapel Hill and another previous stop in Westwood, Willis is eligible and ready to play. Willis and Ellis McCarthy will team up to form a young, talented tandem on the D-line that will terrorize Pac-12 offenses for years to come.
Ellis McCarthy NT - reminiscent of Brian Price back in 2007, UCLA football has desperately needed a playmaking D-lineman who can wreak havoc against opposing offenses. As a true freshman, McCarthy definitely looks the part already and will have an immediate impact on our D-line.
Ishmael Adams DB - officially listed on the UCLA football roster as 5'8 186, what Adams lacks for in prototypical D-1 defensive back size, he makes up for in pure playmaking ability and tenacity. Adams is a football player, plain and simple and will find his way into the defensive backfield rotation.
Devin Lucien WR - As a highly recruited and highly regarded freshman last year, Lucien should have played but having waited his turn, Lucien will have his opportunity to show the team exactly what they were missing last year.
Ka'imi Fairbairn K - after the departure of former kicker, Kip Smith, who transferred to Oklahoma State, we need a kicker and Fairbairn, who spent last year at Hawaii powerhouse, Punahou is our guy. In a position that is frequently overlooked, Fairbairn will get his shot very early.
Players Poised to Break Out
Brett Hundley QB - Although he has not been granted the starting position title yet, he showed the coaches what he is capable of doing this spring, and has progressed with each practice. I think I speak for many of us here when I say that he has what it takes to be "the man" on offense that we have sorely missed since Cade McNown exhausted his eligibility.
Jordon James RB - A candidate that I picked to break out as a redshirt freshman, "Joystick" will finally get his chance to do what he does best: make plays, under new OC's Noel Mazzone's offense.
Simon Goines OT - Another highly touted true freshman, Goines is a physical specimen at 6'7 324 as a true freshman, and will get his opportunity to shine early. He may experience growing pains at first but is a candidate to break out just as XSF did his freshman year.
Carl Hulick C - A true freshman center and a manchild, Hulick, like McCarthy, already looks the part. In an offensive line that will require freshmen to step up early, Hulick will get the opportunity to grab the starting center spot and never look back.
Jordan Payton WR - At 6'2 205, Payton, like many of the true freshmen, has the size to play D-1 ball. He will get playing time in Noel Mazzone's offense and has the opportunity to develop into one of the better possession receivers in the Pac-12.
Steven Manfro RB - although not such a sleeper anymore, the White Mamba will still require touches in a crowded backfield that includes workhorse, Johnathan Franklin, bruiser, Malcolm Jones and the aforementioned Jordon James.
Nate Iese LB/TE - a highly regarded, athletic linebacker out of Elk Grove, Iese, a true freshman, will wear #89 and may be asked to play on both sides of the ball. While our LB corps looks solid on paper, Iese may push one of the incumbents for playing time while masquerading as a tight end when Big Joe Fauria needs a breather. Although Iese could also be asked to redshirt if the team needs him on the offensive side of the ball, look for him to develop into a playmaker in the future.
This list is by no means conclusive. Please share your thoughts and include your own lists and insight as well.